"My god…how did I miss it?”: Women's experiences of their spouses’ alcohol-related relapses

Belle Gavriel-Fried, Rotem Izhaki, Ofir Levi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

What is known on the subject:: Alcohol addiction is manifested by periods of abstinence and relapse in which the individual returns to previous problematic alcohol use. This may lead to unstable and stressful routines for the family and for women who live with a spouse diagnosed with an AUD. AUD may mentally and physically affect women living with a spouse diagnosed with AUD with respect to relapse. However, most studies have focused on the influence of AUD in general, and the way they cope with it; few have dealt with the experience of relapse as a distinctive stage. What the paper adds to existing knowledge:: Women's experiences of their spouses’ relapses are embedded within their broader life experience in the shadow of alcohol addiction. The pattern of transitions from closeness to distance in the ways women think, feel and actively respond to their spouses’ relapses shows similarities with the ways in which individuals cope with repeated trauma. This helps relate these women's experiences of their spouses’ repeated relapses to the potential complex trauma these women experience and leads to a better understanding of the internal emotional dynamics of these women's behavioural patterns. What are the implications for practice:: These women need a therapeutic solution that can help them cope with longstanding emotional burdens. Therapists should be sensitive to the complexity of their experience. When relevant, therapy should be based on therapeutic strategies from trauma practice, along with Alcohol Behavioural Couples Therapy that can reinforce the couple's mutual efforts to achieve sobriety or reduce AUD severity. Abstract: Introduction Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is manifested by periods of remission and relapse which can serve as a source of continuous stressors on the individuals and family. Women living with a spouse diagnosed with AUD can be mentally and physically affected by this behaviour. Most studies have focused on the general influence of AUD on these women and their attempts to cope with AUD; there are scant data on the influences of relapse as a distinctive stage. Aim To better understand how women whose spouses are diagnosed with AUD experience their relapses. Method A qualitative-naturalistic approach was implemented. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 women whose spouses were diagnosed with AUD. Results Content analysis revealed three main categories representing the transitions from: a) ignorance to realization, b) emotional opposition to acceptance and c) activity to inactivity. Each category reflects one cognitive, emotional or behavioural dimension of this experience. The overarching theme emerged as shifts from closeness to distance in the way these women think, feel and actively respond to their spouse's relapses and addiction. Discussion The shift from closeness to distance as manifested by the three transitions is argued to reflect the ways these women experience and cope with the chronic nature of AUD. It is suggested that this experience parallels the phenomenology of symptoms of complex trauma. Implications for practice Nurses should be alert to the potential accumulative stressors experienced by these women and implement intervention strategies developed in the trauma field in addition to Alcohol Behavioural Couples Therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-793
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Volume28
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • alcohol use disorder
  • relapse
  • spouses
  • trauma
  • women

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